Body dysmorphic disorder

Let’s face it – at one time or another you’ve wished a part of your body looked a little different. It might be that you think your thighs are too big, your skin’s not perfect, or your nose has that little bump in the middle that EVERYONE can notice. This kind of thinking is pretty common and normal, whether it’s true or not. However, it becomes a problem is when it starts to rule your life.

You can become totally preoccupied with the part of your body that you think is not okay, and these beliefs severely interfere with the quality of your life. This kind of obsessing over a part of your body is known as body dysmorphic disorder (or BDD).

How BDD might affect you

There are many different types of behaviours and symptoms that you might experience if you have BDD, however you don’t have to experience all of them. Some common ones are:

  • frequently checking out how you look in mirrors
  • picking at your skin
  • constantly making sure you look clean and well groomed
  • frequently touching the part of your body that you don’t like
  • trying to hide or disguise the body part or yourself
  • avoiding going out or being with others because you feel so self-conscious about an aspect of your appearance
  • feeling depressed or anxious
  • trying to ‘fix’ the body part – through exercise, medication, surgery, and other sorts of treatment.
  • feeling suicidal (if you’re worried about this and need information about how to keep yourself safe, please read wanting to end your life or go to get help now to get some support straight away)

If you’re concerned that these behaviours sound familiar it is important that you speak to a doctor or psychologist to find out more.

Why it happens

BDD doesn’t have a single cause. It is often due to a variety of different physical and mental health issues. These are just some of that factors that may contribute to having BDD:

  • having low self-esteem and negative beliefs about yourself
  • experiencing negative thoughts – ‘Everybody hates me because I am ugly,’ or ‘I will never be anything unless I look okay’
  • cultural emphasis and fixation on the ideal body
  • feeling a lack of control in your life
  • stress or coping styles
  • feeling as though you cannot manage difficult emotions/feelings any other way
  • relationships with family and peers
  • genetics and chemistry
  • sexual abuse or trauma

Getting help

If you are concerned that you might have BDD, it is important that you see a GP or psychologist to talk about it and find out more about which options might be best for you. Getting the right assistance can help you enjoy your life again. Some of your options may include:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) from a psychologist can be really helpful when dealing with BDD as it can give you a feeling of power and control over your thoughts, enabling you to learn ways of overcoming the tendency to think negatively.
  • There is also a treatment known as response prevention. This is when you learn how to develop other ways of coping with the urges to do the behaviours you might do as a result of your BDD.
  • Medication from your GP can sometimes also be useful in reducing the intensity of your negative thoughts.
  • BDD can sometimes exist with other psychological problems such as Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and social phobia. Therapy for these problems may also help your BDD.

Other things that might be helpful:

  • Take a look inside an art gallery or in books at the library – what do the people look like in these pictures? What makes them beautiful? What makes you want to look at them?
  • Join a support group – it may be helpful to share your experiences with people who are going through similar situations
  • Write some of your feelings down in a journal
  • Write down some positive affirmations and put them around the house or carry them with you eg – ‘I am okay’, ‘I am worthwhile’
  • Write a list about the things that are okay about yourself – it can be anything from being a good friend to liking your big toe!
  • Write a list of the things you like about your friend – how important to you is the way they look or are there other things about them that you really like?  What do they like about you?
  • Take the time to do nice things for your body – like going for a massage, having a bath with nice smelling salts, getting your nails done
  • Make a list of things you can do to distract yourself from your behaviours. This can be stuff like going for a walk with the dog, listening to some positive music, watching your favourite movie. Then put each thing in a box/container and when you feel upset pick one out and do it. Keep doing it until you feel okay again. If you finish your entire list – start again!

More support

Check out Bodywhys for more information and support around BDD.

Acknowledgements

Edited by Headstrong

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Comments Show all comments

  1. Thomas says:

    Hi Alison,

    If you get a chance have a look at the Bodywhys site, it's got lots of useful information and links to services. They also have a directory of services which is divided up by region and the Dublin page has quite a few options.

    I hope this helps.

    Regards,
    Thomas.

  2. Alison says:

    Can somebody please recommend where I can go to get help for this in the Dublin area?

    Thanks

  3. roisin says:

    Hi Paul,

    Suffering from BDD must be really hard, especially with other issues on top of it as well. Feeling like you don't want to look in the mirror or see photos of yourself sounds difficult.

    If you haven't spoken to anyone about this before it's important to rememeber that you are not alone. There are plenty of people out there who have been through the same sots of feelings as you and there are lots of servicres out there that can help. Getting through BDD can be really difficult but speaking to a professional can make all the difference. You don't have to feel this way forever.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences on here, I'm sure it will help others on here know that they are also not alone,

    Take care,
    Roisin

  4. Paul says:

    Suffer from this myself as long as many other issues, generally don't look in the mirror at myself and delete photos

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